Stepping onto Randall’s Island this Saturday (July 27) was an ethereal, captivating experience. The lines and troves of Black girl magic and Black boy joy coming together for a groundbreaking summertime festival radiated a calming sense of familiar energy despite the blaring music and the sweltering heat. The founders of Curly Girl Collective created this experience, and I know I’m not the only one who’s eternally grateful!
In the sixth year of CURLFEST, the venue was bigger and the festival was even better! The five women of Curly Girl Collective started off in an apartment and now service an entire community with their highly favored event! With NYC passing legislation against the discriminating of our natural hair, this year was not only a celebration of the uniqueness that is our natural hair. It was a celebration of Curly Girl Collective and how they are truly changing the world’s perception of our natural tresses and curls.
BET Digital caught up with co-founders Charisse Higgins, Tracey Coleman, Gia Lowe, Simone Mair and Melody Henderson on the BETHer pink carpet and gained insight into their experience of building a brand with a girl gang full of bosses! They also offered some gems to pass onto to the next generation of Black women entrepreneurs.
The women of the Curly Girl Collective created an experience that not only uplifts our community but also uplifts brands that cater to our community. Gia explained why they are proud that their collective has welcomed these natural beauty brands that may not have be noticed into their Curly Girl family with open arms.
“The collective we’ve cultivated and the festival is a spring board and a platform for [natural hair beauty] brands. Those brands that may have not been noticed or have not been on the shelf yet. They have a little following. But, we question, ‘Hey what are you using that’s making your texture look like this or your skin pop.’ Whatever it is. And often times, it’s hard to find those things. So, there’s a place to discover here at CURLFEST. We are a platform where a few brands have actually launched into some awesome spaces. We couple with those brands to amplify them.”
As entrepreneurs who are cultivating a cultural experience, these women truly understand that nothing comes easy when building a brand and, to Simone, new challenges arose when moving from Prospect Park in Brooklyn to Randall’s Island in order to accommodate their vastly popular summertime event.
“We’re in a new space with new challenges. It’s an island, it’s different than Brooklyn. So, there were some challenges, I think, we had to learn along the way. I always say, ‘A mistake or a misstep is a lesson and a blessing,’ So, anything that we have learned from the past, we learned for this year. Anything that we learned from this year, we’ll be even better next year.”
With men and women coming from all over the country and the world, CURLFEST is ready to expand and they are using their NYC festival as a subset on how to sprinkle their magic in other regions.
“The thing that’s interesting about New York is if you go somewhere else, people assume that we’re all good here. And we actually don’t need a gathering. But I think it’s evident that we do. But, it’s welcoming for everyone. People come from all over the world. I think when we think about expansion, it’s because we want to be able to give the magic to everyone, right? There’s an element that we want to make sure we maintain. And I think our audience is helping us do that," Melody explained.
To the Curly Girl Collective, the best thing about creating a business with other women is just that: you have other women with kindred spirits supporting each other wholeheartedly. They are the epitome of #SquadGoals. Charisse told me that she believes that this group of Black women face the same microaggressions and similar life trials and tribulations, so they have each other to lean on when times get tough.
“[There’s] times when it’s hard because we want it to be perfect. But, when we come together, we realize that this is perfection. And we need to be less hard on ourselves because we’re bringing so many people together that can relate to what we’re trying to do. We’re changing the world in one way or another. That’s hard when you think about the challenges we face in media, in fashion, in any industry, at work with discrimination,” Charisse explained. “We deal with challenges all the time. And sometimes it’s a challenge for us to stay strong but then we have each other to lean on to say, ‘You know what? This is why we’re doing this.’ And it’s bigger than us. And because it’s bigger than us, we can fail quickly and keep going.”
Speaking of failing, these women are true lesson in being comfortable failing or just starting something before we think we’re ready! The fear of failure tends to hinder us and we grow less and less confident in following our dream. But, as Tracey put it, when you’re passionate about something, you won’t know if it will be successful without putting yourself out there first.
“Start before you’re ready. I think a lot of us, especially women, we think we can’t do it. We’ve been told we can’t do it. I think that you have to start before you think that you’re there. Whether it’s financial, whether it’s like, ‘I don’t have the support system.’ There’s so many reason people say I can’t. But, I think that right before you’re ready, that’s when you start. Because once you get into it, there’s momentum that’ll push you. You won’t get that if you don’t start.”
Whether you are starting a business, going out for a new job in a different field, or trying to use social media to boost your latest project, Tracey explains that you need to put yourself out there first, and figure the rest out as you go along!
As we learned from the panel on social media with Yandy Smith and the BETHer Black women in business panel at CURLFEST, sometimes we just don’t know where to start when trying to build a brand that means something to our community, like the Curly Girl Collective. We see people living their best lives all over social media, and we want to do it too! But it’s not always that simple.
“How do you build a brand? How do you get sponsors? I think that it is consistent integrity and building relationships intentionally. And patience,” Gia said. “People really glamourize what it looks like because the visuals of this do not show that we are breaking down at times. It doesn’t look like that when you look at the pictures that people choose to post. Get very clear about your why. Get very clear about the truth that it doesn’t look like your Instagram feed. And if it does, then something’s not right! Keep starting, be consistent, and have integrity.”
Being authentic is truly what set CURLFEST apart as the largest natural hair festival to date. Not only did these women notice a gap in the market for events like theirs, they were the customers they were targeting, searching for a safe space to celebrate the natural hair movement.
“What I think has made us most successful is our authenticity to the actual brand and the reason why we’re doing it,” Simone told BET. “I think our customers can see that we’re doing it because we feel that there was a space for it. There was a demand and a need that we, ourselves, the five of us couldn’t find so we created that. There was no other natural beauty festival so we created that and we needed that. We are the customer so I think authenticity, for sure, is what made us. Here we are.”
Here they are indeed! If you see all the pictures and are wishing you could have made it out to NYC for this monumental event, there may be a CURLFEST near you coming soon! In expanding into other markets, like Atlanta, this collective hopes that a new city means a new, exciting experience for their festival!
“One thing I think we’re all looking forward to is seeing what kind of flavor other cities bring. We’re not trying to take CURLFEST New York and make CURLFEST Atlanta the same thing or CURLFEST in other countries. It’s whatever you bring to that,” Tracey added. “What does your community think about beauty? What music do you listen to? What’s your fashion? We want all that to come and create almost like a new CURLFEST unique to that location. I’m really excited to see what it’s like when we start sprinkling that magic everywhere.”
Seeing people of different ages, backgrounds and, most importantly, hair textures being able to experience a festival made by a group of Black women to service them was a heartwarming sight to see! I can’t wait to see to what Charisse Higgins, Tracey Coleman, Gia Lowe, Simone Mair, and Melody Henderson continue to do in order to expand and spread the Curly Girl Collective and CURLFEST to the rest of the world.
(Photo: Clifton Prescod for BET)
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